What is the mission of the Customs Service? We are the guardians
of our Nation’s borders - America’s Frontline. We serve and protect
the American Public with integrity, innovation and pride. We enforce
the laws of the United States, safeguard the revenue, and foster
lawful international trade and travel.
The U.S. Customs Service is America’s front line against the
smuggling of drugs and other prohibited goods. Customs has
discovered large amounts of drugs in baggage, vehicles, and on
When you return to the United States, we will treat you in a
courteous, professional manner. We realize that very few travelers
actually violate the law, but we may still need to examine your
baggage or your vehicle, which, by law, we are allowed to do. We may
ask you about your citizenship, your trip, and about anything you
are bringing back to the United States that you did not have with
you when you left.
If you need help clearing Customs, please do not hesitate to ask
the Customs inspector for assistance.
"Duty" and "dutiable" are words you will find frequently
throughout this brochure: Duty is the amount of money you pay on
items coming from another country. It is similar to a tax, except
that duty is collected only on imported goods. Dutiable describes
items on which duty may have to be paid. Most items have specific
duty rates, which are determined by a number of factors, including
where you got the item, where it was made, and what it is made of.
To "declare" means to tell the Customs officer about anything
you’re bringing back that you did not have when you left the United
States. For example, you would declare alterations made in a foreign
country to a suit you already owned, and you would declare any gifts
you acquired overseas.
When You Return to the United States
When you come back, you’ll need to declare everything you brought
back that you did not take with you when you left the United States.
If you are traveling by air or sea, you may be asked to fill out a
Customs declaration form. This form is almost always provided by the
airline or cruise ship. You will probably find it easier and faster
to fill out your declaration form and clear Customs if you do the
- Keep your sales slips! As you read this brochure, you’ll
understand why this is especially important for international
- Try to pack the things you’ll need to declare separately.
- Read the signs in the Customs area. They contain helpful
information about how to clear Customs.
Be aware that under U.S. law, Customs inspectors are authorized
to examine luggage, cargo, and travelers. Under the search authority
granted to Customs by the U.S. Congress, every passenger who crosses
a U.S. border may be searched. To stop the flow of illegal drugs and
other contraband into our country, we need your cooperation. If you
are one of the very few travelers selected for a search, you will be
treated in a courteous, professional, and dignified manner. If you
are searched and you believe that you were not treated in such a
manner, or if you have any concerns about the search for any reason
whatsoever, we want to hear from you. Please contact the director of
passenger programs, whose address is listed at the end of this
What You Must Declare
- Items you purchased.
- Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday
- Items you inherited.
- Items you bought in duty-free shops or on the ship or plane.
- Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then
brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free
- Items you brought home for someone else.
- Items you intend to sell or use in your business.
- Items you acquired (whether purchased or received as gifts) in
the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or in a Caribbean
Basin Economic Recovery Act country (please see section on $600 exemption
for a list of these countries) that are not in your possession
when you return. In other words, if you acquired things in any of
these island nations and asked the merchant to send them to you,
you must still declare them when you go through Customs. (This
differs from the usual procedure for mailed items, which is
discussed in the section on sending goods to the United States.
You must state on the Customs declaration, in United States
currency, what you actually paid for each item. The price must
include all taxes. If you did not buy the item yourself—for example,
if it is a gift—get an estimate of its fair retail value in the
country where you received it. If you bought something on your trip
and wore or used it on the trip, it’s still dutiable. You must
declare the item at the price you paid or, if it was a gift, at its
fair market value.
Family members who live in the same home and return together to
the United States may combine their personal exemptions. This is
called a joint declaration. For example, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith
travel overseas and Mrs. Smith brings home a $600 piece of
glassware, and Mr. Smith buys $200 worth of clothing, they can
combine their $400 exemptions on a joint declaration and not have to
Children and infants are allowed the same exemption as adults,
except for alcoholic beverages.